Sunday, August 23, 2020

A One Man March (an unfinished tale)



No one noticed as he stepped out the front door of the house in which he had resided for 52 years. He was greeted only by the rising sun and the sounds of his hometown awakening from its nocturnal slumber.

He was 88 years old and there were 296 miles to go between thought and realization.

It was September 19, 2020. Fall was only moments from taking control. There were suggestions of it in the cold in his fingertips. He turned up the collar of his jacket to brace against the reminders of the changing season.

I often wonder where greatness resides. Who among us will step from the shadows to become a moment in history?

He had led an existence indistinguishable from others. Performing the same tasks, learning the same lessons, good and bad mixing in their own measure, at their own pace.

There were afflictions consistent with his years. Death had brushed up against him on several occasions. He survived only because it apparently got distracted and headed elsewhere.

There was no reason to believe he could walk through his own state without death finally paying the requisite attention. He headed down his block and turned the corner as six states lay ahead.


It had come to him in a dream, a fleeting image that he took with him into waking conscience. It remained a steadfast companion in the days before that September morning.

It was, in his estimation, not a request or an invitation. Rather, it was an indelible instruction.

There was no mapping out, no scheduling, no weighing of options. There were no conversations.

He was finishing mile one. The wind had subsided. The collar of his jacket was now turned down.

And no one noticed.


In a different universe, he had been a teacher. For over four decades, those who came through the doors of the school navigated daily uncertainties. He was not one of them.

If their attendance was spotty, his was not. If their attention was wandering, his was not. If their allocation of resources was divided, his was not.

When he retired, he was certain no one had noticed.


On March 15, 1954, at 22 years of age he had gotten married. His bride would be his first and lasting love.

On their 66th wedding anniversary, she developed a cough. Soon she was enveloped by Covid. On April Fool's Day she left him a widower. He was alone, in their home, when he learned of her final retreat.

He sat, without word or movement, until the light of day had faded, his only companion a darkness that now pierced his soul. He put his head in his hands and began to cry.

And no one noticed.


This town, his town had fared poorly in recent times. There were vivid indications of problems wherever the eye traveled.

He passed stores shuttered even before the suffocating disasters of recent months. He went by a half century of memories, so many now irreparably altered, the landscape pocked with troubles laid heavy upon each street, their weight causing the very pavement to buckle.

He had not rested for at least two hours. He barely noticed he was moving. In stark contradiction to the images that greeted him, there was a lightness to his gait that belied his years.

At mile 5 he read the sign welcoming him into the neighboring county.

And still no one noticed.


He had never given note to political furies. His was a simple life, unencumbered by discomforts that sometimes follow the strongest of passions. Yet he found himself deeply unsettled in this the early part of his 89th year on this planet.

And it had driven him out the door that morning. Now he was nearly 12 miles from his first step. Evening had arrived as he stood by the side of the road.

The bright headlights of a car suddenly shone upon him. A police officer approached.

Someone had noticed.


He had broken no laws. He had harmed no one. He was merely walking.

As he explained his circumstances, as he informed of his intended destination, he was certain he found a willing listener. It was only when he was placed in the squad car for the ride back to where he commenced, did he understand he had been mistaken.

Later that evening, when the officer arrived at the station, he told the strange tale of the old man by the side of the road.

One of those listening was married to a local reporter.

Someone else had noticed.


On January 14, 1956 his wife gave birth to their only child, a boy.

He was, by all accounts, exceptional. He carried happiness in his pocket and doled it out in generous doses to all who asked.

On February 1, 1971 he was at a local burger place with two friends, each a year his senior. A man walked in carrying a gun. His ex-girlfriend was seated at the table next to the boy.

When the shooting stopped, four people were dead, including the shooter who had turned the gun on himself. The 15 year old boy at the next table had been shot twice in the head. He died instantly.

No one had noticed the gun.


On September 20, 2020 he awoke at 6 AM. One hour later, wearing the same jacket as the previous day, he walked out his front door.

The day was warmer, the sun a constant. By 10, he was carrying the jacket in his arms.

He traversed over 10 miles that day before he was stopped by the cop who had delivered him  home the previous evening.

This time the ride came with a warning: Do it again and he would not be returning home but to a psych ward.

When the cop finished telling the tale this time, and the story made its way back to the local reporter, she sensed there was something that could be important in this 88 year old man and his intended journey.

In two days, he had walked 22.4 miles.

Soon, a lot of people would notice.


He was born July 4, 1932. America's national day of celebration. Except his arrival occurred in Mexico. The youngest of three boys.

The United States was in the midst of a Depression that would steal it's swagger and remove it's smile. Yet it still offered more than what he and his family could find where they resided.

In the beginning of 1936, they entered the land of the free and home of the brave.

On D-Day in 1944, his older brother lost his life on Normandy Beach.

In the madness of that hour, no one noticed.


A four paragraph story appeared on page five of the local newspaper on September 21, 2020.

It spoke of Don Quixote and the impossible dream. It used the word quest twice. And while it did not refer to him by his name but rather cloaked as a former mythic movie hero, it told of an 88 year old local man and of a mission that had to be completed within 45 days. It reported of the chances of a person that age traveling that distance in that time span. It referenced Jimmy Stewart. And how, like Sisyphus, this man's rock had rolled back to the starting point each of the past two nights.

The article was entitled "The One Man March, A/K/A Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

It was terrible writing, a shameless and horrific invasion of privacy. And it happened to be read by someone who knew someone who had a much larger audience of eyes awaiting his every thought.

Very soon, a lot of people would notice.




On Pennsylvania Avenue (why was a street here named for a location elsewhere) the morning of September 19, 2020, seemed unremarkable. It was, in the bastardized fashion of this patch of earth, not in manner different from the day before. Nearly 300 miles away, the earth moved slightly on its axis. But the tremors were not felt even at their place of origin. And certainly not here.

The game had begun in earnest in recent days. The urgency of what was nigh being felt more with each rising of the sun. The blows coming with the quickness of an Ali jab in his prime. Each opening exploited. And where none existed, well one would just have to be created out of thin air.

It was an unusually cold beginning to this day. As a strong breeze sent a wave of chill straight down Pennsylvania Avenue, he turned up the collar of his jacket.

He did not have the faintest notion of what was approaching.


The newspaper business had been in freefall in recent years. It had become an exercise in Darwinism as many of those who had once been powerful now became but historical footnote.  But some were still standing, able to withstand the blows that had come like an Ali jab, in his prime.

On the evening of September 21, 2020 word had filtered down of a peculiar little episode taking place 55 miles from where this tale now sat. This seeming fable had landed on the desk of a very important writer. He had been vainly searching for weeks for something that was beyond the ordinary, that would catch his eye, make his heart take notice.  

It would be three more days before his thoughts became part of the nation's discourse. 

Until then, all remained quiet. The calm before the storm.



Anonymous said...

Beautifully written. Does this refer to a particular person?


Robert said...

Thanks for the compliment.

Just the person imagined in my head


Anonymous said...

I'm hooked! What's next?!?!